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Cannes Lineup: Thierry Fremaux on Innovation, TV Series and Why Hollywood Is MIA

For an event steeped in tradition, the 70th anniversary of the Cannes Film Festival presented artistic director Thierry Fremaux with a good opportunity to shake things up a bit. That’s why the upcoming fest will include virtual reality for the first time (Alejandro Iñárritu’s “Carne y Arena”) and two TV series, David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks” revival and Jane Campion’s “Top of the Lake: China Girl.”

The festival is also opening the door to Netflix, which has two films in competition (Noah Baumbach’s “The Meyerowitz Stories,” and Bong Joon Ho’s “Okja”), and is continuing a Cannes tradition of showing films that reflect the tumultuous times we live in.

After unveiling the Cannes lineup in Paris on Thursday, Fremaux sat down with Variety to chat about how this year’s festival will be different from years past.

The official selection is full of innovations this year. What is your mandate for the 70th anniversary?

This year is a milestone year for two reasons: it’s not only the 70th edition; it’s also the 10th year that I’m in charge of the official selection. As you know, I was offered another job last year, and when I decided to stay at Cannes, I spent time brainstorming with my collaborators about our vision for what Cannes ought to be going forward.

It’s beautiful for a milestone year for Cannes and for the history of cinema to celebrate the future and its innovations, and not only to celebrate the past. So in that sense, the experiment that we are doing this year with the virtual reality installation of Iñárritu is perfect.

And there are also two TV series showing at the festival.

Cinema remains a singular art, and we want to emphasize this while keeping our eyes open on the world that surrounds it. And this world is more and more about TV series, virtual reality. Some filmmakers who are artists, like David Lynch, Iñárritu and Campion, are pioneers who experiment and try to invent new narrative means.

We’re open, curious. I’m not a big fan of series myself, and I don’t quite understand all the hype about the “Twin Peaks” series, but we at Cannes prize fidelity and generosity towards auteurs whom we value and have a forged a long relationship with.

There are so many political films this year. Would you say it’s a more political edition than the previous one?

It’s not the festival which is more political; it’s the artists. If artists were making films about love, there would be more films about love at Cannes. This year we have films shedding light on social [and] political mores, religion, the migrant crisis, etc. Festivals are an echo of the work of artists who don’t live in a bubble.

Yet you’re not showing any films dealing with terrorism, radicalization, Islamic fundamentalism, which are obviously hot-button issues today. Why is that?

The question of terrorism is being treated by the media in general, and I don’t think we have yet figured out a manner to deal with it in a fiction form. We’ve gone through tragedies in Paris, Brussels, Nice and Germany, and we know what’s happening every single day in Syria and Iraq.

How will you show Iñárritu’s virtual reality installation?

We’ll show the installation in a warehouse in the city of Cannes. One person at a time will be able to experiment the installation which lasts 6 minute and 30 seconds.

You mentioned the large volume of films from a new generation of female filmmakers that were submitted. How do you think these films are different from the ones made by the previous generation?

The question of women filmmakers is one that I’m being asked every year and a question that I despise… All I can say is that there were very few films directed by women at the festival in past years and now there are many more, which is a good thing.

What’s your take on Netflix’s model today? Are they becoming more theatrical-friendly?

Ted Sarandos previously said something like, “We’re not going to bother with these old Parisian theaters.” But we, at Cannes, care dearly about these old Parisian theaters. Theaters are essential, and we have an affectionate bond with these theaters. I saved three arthouse theaters in Lyon, and I applaud Quentin Tarantino for saving the New Beverly Cinema and Nanni Moretti for his theater in Rome.

Do you think you can convince Netflix chiefs to value theatrical releases more and adopt a model closer to Amazon’s?

The film world is like a big community and in this big community, everyone has a place to exist. We are happy that at Cannes, this discussion [about Netflix and digital versus theatrical distribution of films] can unfold.

The fact of the matter is that these big services, Netflix and Amazon, recently emerged, and they could have decided that festivals didn’t matter at all. But instead they acknowledged that the recognition of films by festivals, the press, professionals and the Croisette was important.

How did you take into account the fact that some of these films will not get a traditional theatrical rollout — for instance, “Okja”?

“Okja” will be released theatrically in Korea and possibly in the States. It’s a marvelous work of cinema, and Bong Joon-Ho is a film master.

Why are there no American films from big studios?

Because they were not ready. George Clooney had told me at the Cesar Awards that “Suburbicon” wouldn’t be ready in time, and Alexander Payne’s “Downsizing” is opening later this year. Ridley Scott’s “Alien: Covenant” is opening right before Cannes, and we were not going to show the last installment of “Pirates of the Caribbean.” But we’re happy to show films from Noah Baumbach and the Safdie brothers, who are making their first step in the official selection of Cannes and doing so in competition, as well as welcoming back Sofia Coppola and Todd Haynes.

What film did you get in an unusual way this year?

Lynne Ramsey’s “You Were Never Really Here.” It’s not completed yet, but I saw in it the potential of an artist, a poet and an author. And what I saw was enough.

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